Biodiversity of Cotton University

Cotton University has a sprawling campus covering an area of 39.82 acres of land located in the heart of the Guwahati city in Panbazar. The campus is surrounded by the city hustles of the busy streets of Panbazar where stands some important buildings of BSNL office, Reserve Bank of India, the High Court and the Handique Girls College. The Dighalipukhuri bus stop at the junction leads to four important townships in four directions, always swarming with people. The area is known to be one of the busiest and engaged areas of the city with flocks of lawyers dressed in black and white, white salwar ornated with the very classic red dupatta by the Handique girls and the endless queues in front of the BSNL office.

Amidst such an engrossing environment, Cotton University which stands right in the centre, is an integral part of one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world. Of the many reasons for such diversity across taxa, one probably could be the number of indigenous and exotic plants in the campus including almost 100 species of trees, 46 shrubs and 97 herbs and several other climbers and epiphytes as per the records. There are a few rain trees, which are the oldest trees in the campus, believed to be planted during the pre-independence period. These trees play a significant role in maintaining the diversity of different species of birds, butterflies, mammals and also reptiles by providing them nesting and roosting sites. To add to this, the Dighalipukhuri lake adjacent to the University, provides a beautiful patch for many birds including Cormorants and egrets. The mighty Brahmaputra River is also just few meters from the University and it supports number of birds which fly past the university at different time of the day.

Bird diversity in the campus

Since the establishment of the Department of Environmental Biology and Wildlife Sciences in Cotton University in 2015, the University has been a part of the global bird community and has been involved in yearly bird census events like the Great Backyard Bird Count, Campus Bird Count, Salim Ali Bird Count held under collaborative efforts from Bird Count India and Assam Bird Monitoring Network.

Several workshops are organised prior to the Campus Bird Count, which makes an effort to include students of different departments teaching them the importance of avian conservation and use of e-bird app to upload lists of birds seen in the campus, which is a part of citizen science initiative. Since 2016, every year during the month of February, a three days long Campus Bird Count has been organised where students from different field in the University involves in bird watching and count the birds of the Campus. So far, 43 species of birds have been recorded in the campus including some sighting of beautiful migratory birds like Peregrine Falcon. The birds sighted so far in the campus are:

Asian Koel, Asian Barred Owlet, Asian Openbill, Asian Palm-Swift, Asian pied starling, Black Drongo, Black kite, Black-hooded Oriole, Black-rumped Flameback, Blue-throated Barbet, Chestnut-tailed starling, Cinerous Tit, Common Myna, Common Tailor bird, Coppersmith Barbet, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Great Myna, House Crow, House Sparrow, Intermediate egret, Jungle Myna, Lineated Barbet, Little Cormorant, Oriental Magpie Robin, Plain Flowerpecker, Purple Sunbird, Red-vented Bulbul, Feral Pigeon, Rose-ringed Parakeet, Red-breasted Parakeet, Rufous Treepie, Spotted dove, Tickell's Leaf Warbler, White-throated Kingfisher, Yellow-footed Green Pigeon, Lesser Adjutant Stork, Barn Swallow, Brown Shrike, Cattle Egret, Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher and Peregrine Falcon. Yearly census hopefully would help us not just in knowing the number of species found in the campus, but also help us in getting a picture of the trend of population of the respective species.

Butterfly diversity in the campus

Butterflies have always been in the tales of children and even in the indigenous communities in different parts of this country. They are part of our natural heritage and have been studied for over 300 years. It is also important to mention that most butterflies are highly specific in their niche utilization, so the abundance of the species in a locality may advocate the ecological and biological status in ecosystem functioning and environmental health. 48 species of butterflies are recorded from the University campus of which five were Papilionidae species, eighteen Nymphalidae species, eleven Lycaenidae species, nine Pieridae species, and five Hesperidae species.

With the increasing urbanisation, there are enormous changes taking place in the urban ecosystems, sometimes even without us realising. Habitat fragmentation, anthropogenic disturbances, and habitat loss are the main threats in this area, which could have a direct impact on species distribution, lowering their survival rate. The rapid deterioration of host plants and suitable habitats might affect the reproductive stage, as well as other ecological processes, which is directly proportionate to the loss of species richness. Therefore, urbanization being a constant process, it is highly important for us to keep a check on the environmental changes and the existing species in such sensitive environments. Campus Bird count or butterfly walks are of great importance and has also proved to play a very significant role in making students aware of importance of different species and biodiversity in general, the need of conservation efforts and most importantly enriching our senses towards the environment we live in.

Birds and butterflies, thus serve to be the main and most extensively studied attraction of the campus biodiversity. However, mammals and other invertebrates are also not far behind on the line to steal the limelight, as the vast campus of Cotton University is also home to species such as Hoary-bellied squirrel, fruit bats, and many different species of spiders. Biodiversity sampling activities will soon be conducted to identify and add the names of more such unique species to the existing records.

So, the next time, you are in the campus, having a slow day, or maybe just sipping a cup of coffee on the canteen stairs, just explore and look around you. You might get to experience the happiness of finding a species or two hidden under the Devdaru trees, or even sheltering on the windows of the library.